*State has already played one conference contest on LFS this year, with a 19-14 victory at Auburn. It was the second-straight Bulldog win on the ‘Abe', going back to a November 2006 success at Alabama. Including the years when broadcast by Jefferson-Pilot Sports, State has a 18-23 record in these regional network games.
*South Carolina's first loss of the year dropped them to 16th in the AP poll and 21st in ESPN/Coaches. Mississippi State's last win over a ranked opponent was in 2004 when the Bulldogs knocked off #-20 Florida at Scott Field. The last win on a ranked opponent's home field was in 1997, at #11 Auburn.
About the Gamecocks: It's year-three of the Steve Spurrier Era in Columbia, and things seem to be progressing right on schedule as the Gamecocks keep showing annual overall gains with seven and eight wins and consecutive bowl trips. The rising profile also increases expectations, and knocking off Georgia in Athens showed this team is ready to contend in an Eastern Division that is entirely up for grabs after one month. And if they emerge on top, the Gamecocks could get a neutral-field rematch with LSU, though to hope to take the title they have to settle the quarterback situation and get the wideouts up to speed. The defense and kicking are already in place.
Offense: The Gamecock offensive staff can compare September notes with their MSU counterparts about picking a quarterback. Senior Blake Mitchell was suspended for the opener so redshirt Chris Smelley got the call, the win, and a shoulder injury to miss the next two games. Mitchell returned to handle the whole game and win at Georgia, then lost the job midway through the LSU loss. So it's back to Smelley this week, with a 55% passing rate, 275 yards, and both two touchdowns and picks. Mitchell is still available of course with 60% passing, 391 yards, and 3-to-4 ratio. Safe to say State has practiced for both. They also must prepare for a pair of runners coming at them as Cory Boyd and Mike Davis have been a productive tailback tandem, each notching 4.8 yards per-carry for their careers with 30 touchdowns between them. So far this season starter Boyd has 272 yards and four scores, Davis 262 yards and one touchdown. Oh, and they are 2nd and 3rd respectively in receptions so far, their short grabs contributing to those shiny completion rates. That also reflects somewhat disappointing to-date results from the wide receivers. Kenny McKinley is clearly the top target with 23 catches and 52 yards per game, but only 9.0 per-reception. What SC wants is to use Moe Brown's speed for big gains, with Freddie Brown a ‘possession' type guy. The real threat early on has been fast TE/SE Jared Cook with a 16.5 average on catches, but he's questionable after taking a shot to the chest at LSU. The strength up-front is mostly on each end. Junior Jamon Meredith is making his 22nd start at left tackle and is the group's all-star candidate, while RT Justin Sorenson has 10-straight starts. RG James Thompson is back after some time on the sideline, and converted defensive tackle Lemuel Jeanpierre has made the transition to offensive left guard. Extra bulk comes from TE Andy Boyd, but the senior is a sneaky receiver too with four touchdowns out of nine career catches.
Defense: It's not easy getting respect for defensive prowess when all anyone wants to talk about is the offensive guru, passing genius, etc. and so on. But folk are finally noticing: these Fowl folk can play the D. With almost the entire starting group back and some true frosh making instant impacts, this is stronger side of the squad in '07. This despite the unfortunate loss of MLB Jasper Brinkley to a season-ending knee injury. It's a particularly effective group against air games, holding foes to only 104 yards-per and one passing touchdown in four games, as well as under 47% completions. Only LSU rates higher nationally in pass defense, yet the secondary is still relatively youthful with just two seniors in the two-deep. Picking the starting strong safety is fun because both Emanuel Cook and Chris Hampton had big days in Baton Rouge; in fact Cook had more tackles, 11, against LSU than in the previous three games. Soph Captain Munnerlyn is a corner to watch with three break-ups and 13 tackles already. Yes, the linebacker corps is missing Brinkley, but junior Marvin Sapp has two years' experience and is filling the middle-void capably. It doesn't hurt having Rodney Paulk (22 tackles) tearing things up from the strong side, and tough true frosh Cliff Matthews has already earned a starting WLB job ahead of three-year vet Cody Wells. Oh, the two-deep at linebacker averages over 230 pounds, too. Put that kind of bulk behind a quality line and it makes for one of the most physical front-sevens in the game. Casper (twin brother) Brinkley used to be a ‘backer in fact; now he's thriving at end with 22 stops this year. He gets a lot of work because on the other end is top ‘Cock linemen Eric Norwood, a freshman All-America in '06 who is only getting better. He tops the team in tackles, stops behind the line, and sacks. There were some early questions at tackles, mostly answered now. Freshman Ladi Ajiboye has taken one spot over a senior and '06 starter, and Marque Hall is successfully back from a year-old knee injury. And backup tackle Jonathan Williams can also play end, if needed. It's a stout group there in the box, yet this is where foes choose to attack. LSU pounded out 290 yards, nearly six-per run, and the season average allowed is 217 yards…over twice what the Gamecocks give up in the air. And one area SC does want to improve is turnovers forced and collected; they've only had five fumbles by foes, one recovered.
Specialists: PK Ryan Succop began the year with a miss but has hit five-straight field goals since, including three for the winning points at Georgia. The Groza Award candidate is 21-of-28 for his career on trey-tries and has been good from 55 yards. He's also up for the Guy Award, punting at a 43-yard clip with four ‘downs' inside the 20-yard line. Munnerlyn returns both kickoffs (21.5 yards) and punts (5.6), though McKinley has gotten a couple of turns at the latter too. Coverage hasn't been outstanding so far, and you know SC is still stinging after giving up that fake field goal/touchdown to LSU.
The Series: This is the 12th meeting of the programs, all coming since South Carolina joined the SEC for the 1992 season. And after a dozen years the series is split at six wins apiece, though the Gamecocks have won the last four times to draw even. Until then State had a lead built by a four-year win streak of their own from 1996-99. The teams were ‘permanent' opponents until 2002 when the SEC revised scheduling, and after this year the rivalry will lapse until ----. The six games played in Columbia have also been split, 3-3, with the last such meeting in 2002. State has not won at SC since 1998. Sylvester Croom is 0-1 against South Carolina, and this is his first-ever trip there as player or coach. Steve Spurrier is 5-2 against State, 1-0 with SC.
The Last Time (August 31, 2006): The stage was set for a big night in Starkville, with a Thursday night season-opener and national telecast. And when the host Bulldog intercepted a pass on the first snap of their season big things seemed certain. But that was also the high point for Mississippi State, which failed to convert the pick into points (missing a field goal), and went on to lose 15-0 to South Carolina. The Gamecocks, who gave Coach Steve Spurrier his 150th career win, pecked out three field goals from Ryan Succop around a single big-play touchdown that really settled the outcome. With a 6-0 lead through three quarters on converted kicks of 39 and 35 yards, South Carolina wideout Syvelle Newton turned passer and threw to back Cory Boyd for a 53-yard strike at 13:43 of the evening. Earlier, backup quarterback Chris Smelley had thrown a 42-yard ball to Kenny McKinley to set up SC's second-quarter field goal for all the halftime scoring. The Gamecocks managed 81 rushing yards, though Boyd had 93 on 12 totes, and 193 in the air between the three throwers. State's offense was beheaded almost instantly when starting QB Mike Henig suffered a then-uncaught concussion on his very first play; then went down before halftime with a broken collarbone. He'd been 2-of-8 before leaving the game; backup Tray Rutland was 6-of-15 in relieve with two interceptions and 63 yards. Freshman Anthony Dixon came off the bench for 64 yards rushing, but was stopped on the crucial 4th-and-1 at midfield when State had its only good second-half drive going.
Did You Know? This is the 300th career game Steve Spurrier has coached in college, his 30th at South Carolina. And he is trying for his 100th SEC victory.
Bulldog Player Notes: DE Titus Brown enjoyed a ‘career' sort of evening at the expense of Gardner-Webb, with three tackles for losses of 14 yards. Two of them were sacks, giving Brown 14.5 for his MSU tenure and passing Keith Joseph (1989-92) for 8th on the MSU list. He is right behind the 16.0 of Robert Young (1987-90). Brown has notched a tackle-for-loss in 11 of his last 12 games and owns 140 career tackles.
*Through four games the Dog defense is credited with 27 tackles for losses of 117 yards and nine sacks. Brown has four of those sacks. He and fellow DE Avery Hannibal have 11 quarterback ‘hurries' between them, of the team's 20 total.
*By contrast, State's offensive line has allowed just eight ‘hurries' in four games; and seven sacks.
*Mississippi State has converted an interception into a touchdown in their last three games, setting a program consecutive-game record as far as can be found. And a different Dog has accounted for the ‘pick-six' in this stretch: SLB Gabe O'Neal at Tulane, S Derek Pegues at Auburn, and S De'Mon Glanton against Gardner-Webb.
*State's defense intercepted 12 passes in 12 games last season; these Dogs have picked off five balls already.
*Pegues' interception-score at Auburn was the third of his career, which gives the junior the career record already. He had tied the mark, and the season record, with two pick-six plays as a sophomore. Pegues has six career interceptions and needs nine to make the MSU top-ten. And every time he picks a pass Pegues produces 19.7 yards worth of return.
*Pegues has climbed to 8th in career punt return yardage, with 409 on 35 attempts. He passed both Eddie Myles (1987-90) and Frank Dowsing (1970-72) in the same game to get into the top-ten. Pegues also has surpassed Glen Young (1979-82) for second in MSU career kickoff returns with 68. He is third in KO return yards at 1,474, trailing Young's 1,538 for second.
*The contest for team-tackle lead is now tied. Three-week leader WLB Dominic Douglas, who didn't get as many snaps against Gardner-Webb because State played a nickel package almost all game, has been caught by MLB Jamar Chaney. Both have 27 stops, though Douglas has one more sack and tackle-for-loss. And SLB Gabe O'Neal is right behind at 26 tackles. Between them the three starting linebacker account for almost 30% of the team's total tackles, special teams stops included.
*Junior DE Jimmie Holmes hasn't started a game but is second only to Brown in tackles-for-losses with 3.5, and in sacks with 2.0. Holmes also has two of the team's five recovered fumbles.
*Junior P Blake McAdams has booted the ball 155 times, and with his next punt will catch Bobby Collins (1951-54) for 7th on the career list. His 6,188 yards on those kicks already ranks 7th-most in MSU history.
*Senior WR Tony Burks has caught at least one pass in 12-straight games, and he got his first touchdown of 2007 with a 30-yard grab Saturday night. This season he is netting 17.5 yards on every reception; last year Burks led the SEC in that unofficial category at 24.3 yards a catch.
*Thanks to a deeper group of wideouts to share catches with, Burks is still looking for his first 100-yard receiving game of 2007. As a junior he had five, tying Mardye McDole (1978) for the program season record. Burks is also tied for fifth on the career chart at five 100-yard games. The record is eight, by David Smith (1968-70).
*Another group is paying a price for having more talent at the wide receiving positions. Of the 51 Bulldog receptions this year, only seven have been by tight ends. Senior Eric Butler has four grabs and 24 yards; senior Jason Husband three for 53; and senior Dezmond Sherrod has yet to have a ball thrown his way.
*Junior FB Jeremy Jones' touchdown reception at Tulane was the first receiving score by a Bulldog fullback since Bryson Davis in the 2005 Egg Bowl. He has two receptions this year; and against G-Webb Brandon Hart made his first catch of the year, for four yards.
*Sophomore HB Anthony Dixon had his 100-yard game streak stopped at two when he was limited to just over a half's worth of work Saturday. But he got enough carries, and yards, to go over 1,000 in only his 16th college game. Dixon now has 1,017 career yards, with 349 through four games this season. He had consecutive 100-yard results in wins at Tulane and Auburn, matching his pair of 100-yard efforts as a freshman.
*On the injury list for at least two more weeks, junior QB Mike Henig has 2,190 career passing yards on a 45.1% completion average. Before his injury, Henig was coming off his fourth career 200-yard game in the win at Tulane when he had a career-best completion average of 64.5% (20-of-31). At Tulane, Henig scored the first rushing touchdown of his MSU career when he ran 18 yards into the Wave's end zone in the first quarter.
*Henig's replacements were a combined 12-of-19 against Gardner-Webb for 166 yards. Starter Wes Carroll was 4-of-8 and is now 10-of-23 for the year. Alternate Josh Riddell was 8-of-11 against G-W and threw his first college touchdown, to Burks. He is 9-of-16 after two games' action.
*PK Adam Carlson has converted all ten of his PAT tries this season. Last year he was one of four SEC kickers who did not miss a point-after, and he is now 44-of-44 for his career.
*Carlson hit one of two field goal tries against G-W, though the miss was due to a bobbled hold and not his kicking. Still the official stats leave Carlson 4-of-7 on the season, and 12-of-23 for his career.
*Two Bulldog seniors hold the team lead in career games played. Both TE Dezmond Sherrod and DE Avery Hannibal have gotten on the field in 38 contests through four seasons. The consecutive-start lead belongs to P Blake McAdams at 27. C Royce Blackledge is first among the non-specialists in starts with 22-straight.
*LB K.J. Wright became the latest true freshman activated this season when he played on special teams against G-Webb. That brings the total to six first-year frosh playing in 2007, joining QB Wesley Carroll, ST Karlin Brown, S Zach Smith, DT Lamarcus Williams, and OT Derek Sherrod.
*True freshmen who have dressed without playing are S Wade Bonner, HB Robert Elliott, HB Marcus Green, and LB Jamie Jones. True frosh who have not dressed out in the first four games and thus are presumably redshirting are: CB Damein Anderson, LB Terrell Johnson, OL Addison Lawrence, OL/SN D.J. Looney, OL Dakota Merritt, QB Chris Relf, PK Eric Richards (injured), DL Quentin Saulsberry, and FB Ethan Stockett.
*Redshirted 2006 freshmen who have played so far are: OG J. C. Brignone, SN Aaron Feld, OT Mark Melichar, DE Rodney Prince, and TE Brandon Henderson. Classmates who have yet to see action are WR Alex Carpenter, DL Brandon Cooper, TE Chris Herrera, DT Reggie Odom.